Yesterday, September 17, was 19 months since my initial shocking diagnosis: “There is a 95% chance you have stage 4 lung cancer.” Three weeks later I learned that there were no lung cancer cells in the genetic testing of the biopsy cells, and the diagnosis changed to stage 4 unknown primary.
If you know anything about cancer, you know that the origin of the cancer is very important in determining treatment. It’s also important in how someone deals with having cancer. My numbness quickly changed to confusion and often to fear. Every doctor appointment, every lab work, and every scan held the potential for bad news. Had it grown? Had it spread to other places? It became a matter of reminding myself every moment, “Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t go beyond this moment.”
Yesterday I learned that if my cancer cells were viewed under a microscope, the medical opinion would be that I have ovarian cancer because my cells clearly look like ovarian cancer cells. The last time the biopsy cells were viewed was 19 months ago when they were genetically screened by a lab in California, and the conclusion was 0% lung cancer, 70% likely ovarian, and 20% likely cervical. Unless the percentage is over 90%, then the results are not conclusive. In the last two weeks, however, the tissue from the biopsy was accessed for the first time since that earlier report, and this time the research team here feel that the likely origin is ovarian. When coupled with my medical history of severe endometriosis (5 surgeries, with a 6th resulting in a complete hysterectomy due to the extent of the endometriosis), the possibility of a random cell or three remaining inside and becoming cancerous leads to a strong, strong likelihood that I have ovarian cancer.
While ovarian cancer is rightly called a “silent killer” since there are few if any symptoms until the advanced, the fact that I am 19 months after diagnosis and possibly 27 years after the cancer started growing seems to indicate that i might fall into the portion of ovarian cancer patients who experience a roller-coaster of treatment and remission and treatment and remission. The good news is that being able to identify the origin means that treatment options can target the specific type of cancer and that clinical trials become possibilities. Having a name for this cancer also reduces my fear of hidden surprises and unknown problems.
Since midday yesterday and all day today, I have felt hopeful for the first time since the afternoon of February 17, 2012. My cancer is being managed by any incredibly wise and compassionate team of oncologists, and I feel that God has given me a gift of knowing the likely origin. Next week I’ll learn if any of the clinical trial tests were positive or if chemotherapy (with one of the chemo drugs I had last year) will be the next step.
Whatever the future holds, however, I am confident that I am safe and secure in the hands of my Creator.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (Psalm 23:4-6 NKJV)